Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

221,440 subscribers and counting ...

Yes, the quadruple rainbow photo is real

Amanda Curtis’ rare sighting of a quadruple rainbow over Long Island on April 21, 2015 is the real thing. It’s what’s called a reflection rainbow …

Amanda Curtis, CEO of 19th Amendment, is having a very lucky day. While waiting for a train in Long Island this morning she caught this heavenly vision, a rare quadruple rainbow.

Amanda’s photo, which quickly went viral turns out to be what Les Cowley of the great website Atmospheric Optics calls a reflection rainbow. A reflected double rainbow! Bad Astronomer Phil Plait at Slate agrees. In other words, according to Phil:

The angle of the weirder, more vertical bows is what gives it away. If the light forming rainbows reflects off a body of water (say, a lake, pond, or even standing water on a road) you get another set of rainbows cast at a different angle.

Les explains that reflection rainbows are:

… produced by sunlight beaming upwards after reflection from calm water or wet sand …

The Scottish Western Isles are favored places for reflection bows. The prevailing warm south westerlies from the Atlantic Ocean bring frequent showers of fine rain interspersed by skies of exceptional purity whose sunlight is reflected in the many bays and inlets.

But today, thanks to Amanda Curtis, we can all enjoy this rare optical phenomenon!

Thanks for sharing your pic with us at EarthSky, Amanda!

P.S. This reflected double rainbow is a different phenomenon, by the way, from what experts in atmospheric optics call tertiary or quaternary bows. They are even more rare. Read the latest on them – from 2011 – here: First-ever photos of triple and quadruple rainbows

Bottom line: Amanda Curtis’ rare photo of a quadruple rainbow, seen over Long Island on April 21, is the real thing. It’s a reflected double rainbow.

Deborah Byrd

MORE ARTICLES